It’s easy to lose sight sometimes of just how much baseball has changed over the last few years. This came into focus during the ninth inning of the Giants-Cubs game on Tuesday night.
The Giants led the Cubs 5-2 going into the ninth. And let’s just say, for fun, that you were watching the game in The Good Place with late great managing stars Earl Weaver, Casey Stengel, Walter Alston and Sparky Anderson.
“$*%$*#*!” says Weaver. “How did the $%#*$#* Cubs get into the playoffs?”
Yes. Well. San Francisco did lead 5-2 in large part because Giants starter Matt Moore, somewhat absurdly, had pitched an absolute gem. Moore had once been the best pitching prospect in baseball, but that was before he snapped his UCL.
“What in the world is a UCL?” Alston asks.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament. It’s the tissue that connects the inner arm to the inner forearm — right around the shoulder. It’s the ligament that Tommy John had repaired in that miracle surgery.
“Ah yes,” Alston says. “I do remember Tommy. Good sink on his pitches.”
In any case, he struggled after that and his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays …
“I apologize,” Stengel says. “Did you say there is a Major League Baseball team playing in Tampa?”
Well, technically, they play in St. Petersburg, but yes, they’re in that Tampa Bay area.
“Wonders never cease,” he says.
Point is, Tampa Bay gave up on him this year and dealt him to San Francisco. And he pitched moderately well for the Giants. But on this day, Moore pitched eight marvelous innings, striking out 10, allowing just two hits and only one — a hanging breaking-ball homer to Chicago’s David Ross — of consequence. And then, of course, he was pulled before the ninth inning.
“What exactly is happening?” Alston would ask. “Why is he out of this game? Is he hurt again? I never did trust that Tommy John surgery.”
No, you explain. It’s just that he has already thrown 120 pitches.
“Is that a lot?” Alston asks. He starts to wonder how many pitches he’d allowed Koufax to throw before the guy’s arm almost fell off.
Yes, you explain, in modern times it is quite a lot. Pitchers almost never throw 120 pitches these days. Only 13 pitchers all years threw more than 120 pitches in a game (though one WAS Matt Moore back in August when he threw an Earth-shaking 133 pitches).
“That’s the biggest &$&#*$&# I’ve ever ##^$*#@ heard,” Weaver says. “Jim Palmer wasn’t even warmed up until he threw 120 pitches.”
Well, see, it is done to protect pitchers’ arms from injury.
“What a load of $#&$&#*#*,” Weaver says.
“No, Mr. Weaver, wait just a minute,” Casey Stengel says. “It is true that in my day a pitcher’s arm was indeed an endangered species. I remember one pitcher for Dubuque, threw a good live fast one, until one day I see him walk in limping. Says he hurt his arm. I say, well if it’s your arm that’s ‘a hurtin’, why you limping …”
Sorry, Casey, the game is getting ready to start here again.
“I guess my point is, it’s good to limit these pitchers because, I assume, they don’t ever get hurt now that they’re limited.”
No, pitchers still get hurt a lot.
“Ah,” Stengel says. And he rubs his chin.
Well, anyway, pitch count is not the only reason Moore was pulled. If Giants manager Bruce Bochy had stayed with Moore, he would have been facing the Cubs’ lineup for the fourth time.
“So?” Anderson asks.
So, you say, there is solid evidence that shows pitchers do not fare well when facing the lineup for the fourth time.
Alston makes a particularly sour face.
“Yes,” Anderson says. “I can see that. So who is this Derek Law fellow? He the Cubs’ best pitcher, I assume.”
Well, no, Derek Law is not actually the Cubs’ best pitcher. He is a 25-year-old rookie who had kicked around the minors for years. But he’d been given a chance this year, and he pitched pretty well, and, even more, he had shown real moxie in pitching two scoreless innings in Game 3.
“Well,” Weaver says, “I like moxie. OK, this is why you $#&$&#* trust the manager. Bochy is following his hunch. I like that. I respect it. Let this kid finish it off.”
Well, no, he wasn’t put in to finish it off. He was put in to retire Chicago’s Kris Bryant, the probable National League MVP. Instead, Bryant hits a ground-ball single off Law to lead off the inning. Bochy goes to the mound.
“Where is he going?” Alston asks.
He’s pulling Law out of the game to bring in Javier Lopez, of course.
“What the $($&$^@*#?” Weaver asks.
Well, see, lefty Anthony Rizzo is coming up. And Lopez is a lefty reliever who Bochy tends to bring in to face lefty batters.
“So he’s bringing in this young man to get one batter out?” Alston asks.
Well, he’s not that young. He’s 38 years old.
“That’s young to me,” Alston says.
OK, well, Bochy does this pretty often. He has brought Lopez in to face one batter 40 times this year.
“This Lopez must have an impeccable record of success to be kept on the team if his job is only to get one batter out,” Stengel asks.
Well, not really this year. He kind of has control problems. See, look how he walks Anthony Rizzo.
“That seems unfortunate,” Stengel says.
“So you’re telling me he’s coming out of the game now?” Alston asks.
Yep. Here comes Sergio Romo.
“Oh,” Stengel says, “yes. I’m well aware of this gentlemen. I believe he pitched a few speedy ones against us in the ‘62 Series.”
No, he’s not quite that old. But he was the Giants’ closer a couple of years ago.
“What in heaven’s name is a closer?” Alston asks.
He’s the guy that closes out games.
“What does a closer close if there is not a game to close?” Stengel asks.
He sits and watches.
“Wait, so if the Giants have a closer, why have they not called him out to pitch?” Alston asks.
Good question. It seems the Giants have lost faith in their closer, Santiago Casilla. He had some poor outings in the second half.
“My head hurts,” Sparky says as Ben Zobrist doubles to score one run and put runners on second and third base with nobody out. The score is now 5-3.
Shortstop Addison Russell is coming up, and he hits right-handed and, no, wait, it looks like Cubs manager Joe Maddon is hopping into action. He’s going to pinch-hit Chris Coghlan, a left-handed batter.
“Excuse me,” Sparky says.
“I’m looking at your statistics here, and it shows that this Russell kid had 95 RBIs this year.”
Yes, that’s right.
“Why in the world is the manager pinch-hitting for a guy who had 95 RBIs?”
Well, um, teams don’t really use RBIs much these days to judge players’ performances.
“You’re joking,” Sparky says.
No, see, RBIs are a contextual statistic that rely heavily on teammates and timing. There are more telling statistics such as, well, maybe we don’t need to get into that right now.
“You’re telling me this manager prefers a .188 $(%*%&# hitter over a clutch player with 95 $^#^$*# RBIs?” Weaver asks.
“Well, I’m at a loss,” Sparky says.
Please, let’s not start talking about pitcher wins and losses. Point is, pinch-hitting Coghlan is probably just a deke by Maddon. He probably just wants to inspire Bochy to take Romo out of the game. And it’s working. Look, here comes Will Smith.
“The Fresh Prince!” Weaver shouts.
The other managers all look at him curiously.
“I had a $#$&#*# television,” he says.
No, it’s not the same guy. This Will Smith is another lefty specialist.
“How many lefty specialists can one team employ?” Stengel says.
“Say,” Alston says. “Does this Joe Maddon fellow have a right-handed hitter to use here?”
Good eye, Mr. Alston. He does, a darned good one, a rookie named Wilson Contreras. Contreras hit .282 with some power this year.
“What about his RBIs?” Sparky says. “Is he clutch?”
Well, he’s clutch in this situation. Contreras hits a ground-ball single to tie the game up. Now, it’s Jason Heyward’s turn to hit. He bunts …
“Yes, finally something I understand,” Alston says.
“I $&#^#^#* hate the bunt,” Weaver says.
Yes, Mr. Weaver, you are quite famous for that. People will love you for your aversion to the bunt. Many consider you the father of modern baseball strategy.
“They do?” Weaver asks. “You hear that Sparky?”
“How many World Series did you win again, Earl?” Sparky says.
“&^$]$#*#* you,” Weaver says.
Anyway, the bunt fails — should be a double play — but shortstop Brandon Crawford throws the ball away. So Heyward ends up on second base with one out and the score tied. Now, Bochy pulls Will Smith because a righty is coming to the plate. In comes reliever Hunter Strickland.
“I’m afraid I’ve lost track,” ol’ Casey says. “How many pitchers does that make this inning?”
That would be five pitchers.
“I believe that equals the number of pitchers I used for the entire 1950 World Series,” he says.
Yes. That is true.
“Yes,” Stengel says, and then he turns to Sparky Anderson and says, “Sir, how many World Series did YOU win?”
“Three,” Anderson says fiercely.
“Very good,” Stengel says happily and he hums a happy tune to himself.
Strickland gets an 0-2 count on the Cubs’ young star Javier Baez, and then he drills a ground ball up the middle for a base hit. That scores Heyward. And the Cubs lead 6-5.
“OK, can we take this from the top?” Walter Alston asks. “Why was it again that this Moore youngster could not pitch in the ninth inning?”
I’m afraid we have to keep moving forward, Mr. Alston. The Giants come up in the bottom of the ninth, down a run, against Aroldis Chapman. The side strikes out on 12 pitches. The Cubs are going to the National League Championship Series.
“Well,” Weaver says. “I don’t know much. But I’ll tell you one thing. That $(#*$*#&#*@ Chapman guy throws %(#*$*#* hard.”